Lockheed Martin has received the first of five instruments, a Thermal Emission Spectrometer, for NASA’s asteroid-bound OSIRIS-REx probe.
OSIRIS-REx, meaning Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer, is designed to bring back samples from the Bennu asteroid. 101955 Bennu is an asteroid that is potentially on a collision course with Earth, rating third on the Palermo Technical Impact Hazard Scale.
Now before you lock yourself in your apocalypse shelter, the point of the mission is just to collect data from what is one of the oldest parts of the Solar System. Bennu was chosen because it is relatively close to us, even though it will take years for the mission to be completed.
The mission will involve finding out the temperature of the asteroid, as well as finding what sort of chemicals and minerals are present in it. This could help explain where things like water and other organic materials on Earth come from.
The instrument is the size of your household microwave, and has gone through years of design, testing, and calibration. It is able to read temperatures with an accuracy of 0.2°F. The part was built at Arizona State University’s Tempe campus, so there were surely some nice 115°F days to test it on.
This mission could possibly explain how life on Earth came to be.
"If we go to this asteroid and find this carbon-rich material people think is there, it really is revolutionizing our understanding of the solar system," said Greg Mehall, the project engineer with ASU. "It's the first time we've ever done anything like this."
The Thermal Emission Spectrometer will soon be installed onto it, and it is planned to launch sometime in 2016. The O-Rex, if you will, will make a two year long voyage to the asteroid. It should return to Earth with its samples in 2023.
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